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What makes you come alive

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I feel sheepish admitting that I have heard this quote and been struck both by the asking and the answering of it many times, though I’ve never asked who said it or learned about their story.

Dr. Howard Thurman


Reading about this eminent theologian, writer, and philosopher’s life has also struck me. Learning that he has been called the “tutor to the world”, served as a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and traveled to India to speak with Gandhi about developing the elements of nonviolent protest in the U.S., fill me with respect and admiration, as well as curiosity.

How did Howard Thurman regularly answer this question…what makes you come alive?

From a conceptual level, my brain offers these answers to the question:

Connection. Possibility. Inspired Action. Beauty. Hope. Adventure.

In digging a little deeper, I recognize for me, that the notion of aliveness is less cerebral and more visceral, bringing me back to my body. This is equally true for reliving an exciting memory, bringing to mind the experience of working with a powerful and purpose-driven team, or simply witnessing an act of unexpected kindness.

Climbing, doing a handstand, watching a gorgeous sunset, are all things that make me come alive. I find it easiest to connect to my humanness and the gift of life when I am present in the outdoors.

But what about when I can’t get outside, or the cold, dreary winter weather tempts me to withdraw, particularly in this season in history when human interactions such as hugs and handshakes are limited? Where is the aliveness in that? How can I tap in?

Photo Credit: from the Howard Thurman & Sue Bailey Thurman Collections, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University

During these times, I am reminded that this is exactly the time to pay attention to aliveness…on the most basic level, letting our bodily senses bring us into the present. Move the body with music. Slow down and notice the flavors and textures of the foods that are nourishing us. Reach out to chat with a friend – hearing subtle nuances in their voice and the rhythm of pauses in their story. Find videos and articles that inspire us. (I sometimes re-read the extraordinary sentences out loud to let the words reverberate and settle in my being.) Explore where and how emotions show up in the body. Listen for the noises of the night and the noises of the morning. Notice shifts in scents or smells in your home and neighborhood on any given day or week. When at all possible, step outside and look for the moon in the dark…and in the daylight.

Howard Thurman believed in a philosophy of common ground, recognizing that humans need to seek an inner spiritual happiness, leading them to share their experience in community with others: “Every living thing belongs to every other living thing. And I can never be what I ought to be until the last living manifestation of life is what it ought to be. For better or for worse, I am tied into the idiom of everything that lives. And if I forget this, I profane God’s creation. If I remember it, I come to myself in you and you come to yourself in me.”

As we come to our aliveness, acknowledging the interconnectedness of all things through it, let us continue to seek it, to express it, and to celebrate it, in whatever manner most serves, for ourselves and for each other.

What makes you come ALIVE?

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